‘This is Going to Hurt in the Faintest Way’ — Reflections on the Pandemic Year

My letter to myself this time last year

Inspired by Craig Spencer MD MPH’s in Elemental

New York City, January 2020. Photo by author. (Ignore the ’98 date stamp — it’s a Huji app feature)

In New York City, March this time last year marked the pandemic raging on our shores. Remembering its anniversary, this is the letter I wrote to my former self. Yeah, former is a strong word but every cell of my body has changed hands, and so have yours.

Brace yourself. The whispers of a global pandemic have become sirens. But not the Odyssean kind.

You’ll never quite hear them the same way again, their Doppler shift shuttling yet another soul to the E.R. It’s not the flu; it’s different this time. Right now, you’re not sure we can count on simple things like toilet paper. You’re no economist but you’re pretty sure something in the supply chain has to break. The stocks are going haywire; it’s madness on Wall Street.

But right now, you’re wondering just how much you have to stock up on cans of soup, and whether or not you should take it a step further — enough water for 2 weeks, flashlights, a generator in case of power failure?

But you’re wrong to worry — at least not about that. You won’t have to worry about food, water or shelter. The hurt is going to be something far less tangible — your livelihood, the way you thought your life was headed, even who you are. You’ll find just how flimsy “identity” really is without a social web to remind you you’re needed. Prepare to be very much unneeded by society for longer than you could imagine.

But cheer up — you’ll have time in spades. So much time you’ll finally come to understand Einstein's special relativity. You’re not in motion, and you won’t be for some time. Unless you count the 10-hour drive across the country to live with an in-law. And the one time you’ll visit your parents, cautiously, with baggage — the emotional kind.

You’ll have to accept that you can basically do everything you used to do — except it won’t feel the same. Hmm, this one’s hard to explain. You know how you used to shine out in the eyes of the world? Well, they’ll be wearing masks, or more likely, sitting behind a computer screen.

Faces will lose their expression so you have to follow the eyes. You’ll get the mood wrong half the time, but keep trying. But don’t feel bad if you stop expecting outings to bring you the joy they once did. The barista is almost not a person, it’s so hard to say. But it’s emotional relativity. Behind their masks and their worries, they’re in their world and you’re in yours. You try for small talk but most of the time, it falls to the floor. You’ll give anything to see her mouth break into smile.

I’m sorry if this isn’t the pep talk you wanted. I’m still really sad about it and secretly grateful you can’t actually read it. I’m keeping it in a magic box you can’t open.

Oh, and you’ll start doing magic again. No, not like Gob from Arrested Development. The elegant, sleight of hand kind. You’ll make a silver dollar vanish and appear in impossible ways one week after Valentine's. Yep, you’ll be late, but that’s just the kind of year it’ll be. If only you learned the trick where you turn back time. I guess that’s called Daylight Savings.

Thanks to Anna Maltby for the : it’s not too late to add your own story. Just tag “pandemic reflections”.

This essay is one among 30 Atomic Essays in 30 days.

I’m a drummer and writer finding his way in the gristmill of New York City.

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